Sad sick vegan foods

Suffice to say I’ve had a less-than-ideal week. I didn’t cook anything exciting–in fact I didn’t even enter the kitchen, because I was self-isolating in case my apparent stomach bug was actually sneaky COVID. So I’ve just been eating toast, ramen, and frozen things, kindly delivered to my door by my boyfriend. On the bright side, I have discovered some exciting new low-effort vegan foods.

Recommendations

1. Mi Goreng Stir-Fry Noodles — definitely the sick-person-food winner. I guess I’m a food snob because I had forgotten how delicious packaged ramen can be. The fried onion flavor was fantastic. The package recommends stir-frying, but J just brought these to me ramen-style and I added the seasoning packets, which was ideal for rehydrating when sick.

2. Sweet Earth Big Sur Breakfast Burrito — I was impressed by the flavor of these burritos. I guess the dominant taste was paprika, but it was well-balanced by the overall sweetness and richness of the filling. The texture was also nice, although I could have lived without the little chunks of seitan. I thought there was too much wrap and not enough filling, but I think that’s basically a universal issue with frozen burritos.

3. Hodo Tofu Veggie Burgers — I can’t believe I haven’t tried these before. They were so, so satsifying, with a firm, meaty texture and a browned, crispy exterior. They definitely tasted tofu-y, so you probably won’t like them if you’re not a tofu fan, but if you are, I recommend you get some as soon as possible. I can see cutting these up for wraps and adding them to stir fries as well as eating them burger-style. I’m super excited to try the rest of Hodo’s prepared tofu options.

4. Gardein Be’f and Country Vegetable Soup — When I was little I really liked Progresso soups, especially Beef and Barley, but I was always weirded out by the meat in them. It wasn’t an ethics thing (alas), I just figured that they were probably very low-quality cuts of meat and likely contained bits of veins or tendons or organs. I am pleased to announce that Gardein’s Be’f and Country Vegetable soup is just as delicious as the meaty soups I used to love, without the ick-factor and ethical issues.

Dis-Recommendation

Imagine Creamy Broccoli Soup — This soup tasted more like rubber than broccoli. Nor did drinking it give me a healthy feeling, since the texture was more starchy than vegetable-y. Broccoli soup in general is a borderline food, and getting it from a box was just the wrong call.

Broccolatkes

Broccoli latkes may sound absurd, but actually, they are essential! They are imperative! Once you make them you will realize that they are the savory pancakes you have needed all along. You can serve them with any tangy condiment you like, but they were especially amazing with pesto Bitchin’ Sauce, an almond-based creamy sauce with basil.

The main ingredient in broccolatkes (besides broccoli) is Just Egg. I’m not wild about Just Egg scrambles–they taste too pancake-y for me to take the place of eggs, plus tofu scrambles can be pretty glorious in their own right. But Just Egg is a perfect binder for all manner of veggie fritters. Just combine a few cups of mostly-cooked veggies, a bit of flour, spices, and 1/2 cup of just egg and fry them up.

Broccolatkes

  • 2 heaping cups raw broccoli florets
  • 1/2 cup Just Egg
  • 3 T flour (I used brown rice flour; I anti-recommend chickpea flour as it’s too bitter for this recipe)
  • 1 small clove garlic, crushed
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp onion powder, more to taste
  • Red pepper flakes to taste
  • 2 T lemon juice
  • Water to thin
  • Oil to cook

Steam the broccoli any way you like–for this recipe I just microwave it for a minute or two in a covered bowl with a bit of water. Chop the broccoli into small pieces and then stir in remaining ingredients. Thin with water if necessary to achieve a pancake-batter like consistency. Cook like pancakes, either in a good non-stick pan with spray or a small amount of oil, or with 1-2 T oil in a regular pan. Enjoy with lemon juice and your favorite tangy condiments.

The Saags of Quarantine

I totally missed the memo about sourdough, so instead I’ve spent quarantine attempting to master saag tofu–a vegan version of the popular Indian dish saag paneer. I must have made some form of saag tofu at least 20 times since last March, and I’m not sick of it yet.

My experiments have been based on two recipes. The first is Madhur Jaffrey’s saag paneer, which I made with J before going vegan. This is a simple recipe with few ingredients and no spices, except to dust the paneer. To make it dairy-free, I replace single cream with cashew cream or coconut cream. The second is Nisha Vora’s palak paneer with tofu, which is more complex: there are whole spices tempered in hot oil as well as ground spices, tomatoes and onions in addition to spinach, and many stages.

I’ve found that Madhur Jaffrey’s recipe is more what I’m looking for. This may be a matter of personal preference, but I like my saag to be intensely spinach-y, and tomatoes and onions just get in the way. I also found that adding tempered spices gives the dish a toasty taste, which works nicely in dal but not so nicely in a saag dish.

As for the “paneer,” I’ve tried boiling, baking, frying, and adding it raw. I even tried marinating the tofu in a lemon-miso mixture, which gave it a nice appearance but had little effect on the taste. At the end of the day, I prefer just pressing and cubing some tofu and then stirring it in a minute before serving. I don’t recommend letting the tofu cook for too long, as it will get soggy sitting in the spinach mixture.

Spice-wise, the most important thing seems to be using ample ginger. Err on the side of ginger! It tastes great and it tenderizes the spinach. Garlic is less important. I prefer serrano peppers to jalapenos in this dish, but instacart being what it is, I’ve had to use jalapenos many times and the result is far from terrible. As in the Madhur Jaffrey recipe I prefer to add no dry spices, except that I’ve taken to stirring in a few tablespoons of fenugreek leaves right at the end. You could easily leave these out, though.

In summary, here is the recipe I’ve converged upon. I really like it, but I don’t doubt that it could be improved. Let me know if you have any suggestions!

Saag Tofu

  • 1-2 inch knob of ginger, peeled
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 serrano pepper, coarsely chopped
  • Neutral oil
  • 1 lb spinach (I usually use frozen)
  • 1/2 tsp salt, more to taste
  • Cashew cream or coconut cream, to taste
  • 1-2 T fenugreek leaves
  • 1 pkg extra-firm tofu, pressed and chopped into 1/2-1 inch cubes

Place ginger, garlic, and pepper in a blender with a few tablespoons of water and blend into a smooth paste. Heat a bit of oil in a medium-sized pot and add the paste. Fry for a few minutes. Add the spinach and salt and stir to incorporate. Cover and cook for at least 20 minutes (if using frozen spinach, the 20 minutes should start after all the spinach is defrosted) or more if you have the time–I’ve cooked it for up to an hour and it seems to just get better over time. If you cook for a long time, you made need to add a few splashes of water of cream to prevent the spinach mixture from drying out.

5-10 minutes before you want to eat, pulse the spinach in a blender until broken down and creamy but not too smooth–err on the side of under-blending or you may wind up with a “smoothie” texture. You can also blend the spinach in the pot with a hand blender. Return the spinach to the pot and heat it up again on medium-low heat. Add the fenugreek and cream to taste and stir to incorporate. Add the tofu and stir gently to cover the tofu with the sauce. Allow the tofu to cook for 2-3 minutes but do not do any additional stirring, since this will break up the tofu. Serve immediately.